The Little Book of Awe and Wonder

A cabinet of curiosities

By: Matthew McFall


Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 190 x 120mm
Pages : 256
ISBN : 9781781353080
Format: Paperback
Published: August 2018

Prepare yourself to experience wonder, wondering and wonderful learning. A celebration of the inspiring, the informative, the weird and the wonderful, The Little Book of Awe and Wonder: A Cabinet of Curiosities is a delightful book for all ages and a treat for the head, hand and heart. You will find here a wealth of exhibits to make you say ‘wow’ and help you and yours appreciate the world anew. There are things to find, things to stimulate your curiosity, things to make and things to explore …

This portable guide to wonder and wonders can be used in many ways:

As a box of treasure: dip in and marvel at objects and artefacts that transform, puzzle, surprise and enchant.

As a blueprint: be inspired to construct your very own interactive cabinet of curiosities for learning and entertainment. Nets and templates included.

As a memory palace: it can be a playful tool to organise and sharpen your memory.

This illustrated and descriptive work includes sections devoted to:

  • Mirrors
  • Knots
  • Impossible Objects
  • Labyrinths
  • Puzzles
  • Illusions
  • Snails
  • Toys
  • Optical Illusions
  • Invisible Ink
  • Magic Squares
  • Seeds
  • Riddles
  • Origami 

Originally published in hardback, ISBN 9781781350010

Picture for author Matthew McFall

Matthew McFall

Dr Matthew McFall is an education consultant and practitioner with an interest in puzzles, games, mazes, labyrinths and escape rooms.

His work focuses on the uses of wonderment for learning and engagement within both formal and non-formal educational environments. His second doctorate explores the heritage of wonder and considers how ' and why ' it remains relevant to pupils, families and communities. Matthew believes that at the heart of valuable learning is curiosity and positivity, which leads to a lifelong love of finding out more about the universe.

He has championed the venerable tradition of the Cabinet of Curiosities as a boon for schools, helping to establish dedicated wonder spaces both in mainstream schools and in specialist settings for pupils with learning difficulties. He also collaborates with museums to help create spaces that are stimulating, nurturing and surprising.

His book The Little Book of Awe and Wonder: A cabinet of curiosities is a portable cornucopia of the weird and the wonderful, celebrating the joys of discovery, exploration and sharing. Between the covers is an entire world of brilliant strangeness: riddles and illusions; jokes and wisdoms; wasp eyes and kidney crystals. Open the book at random and be transported, delighted and enlightened.

Matthew as featured in The Guardian, 2011: A Wonder Room - every school should have one.


  1. This book challenges readers of all ages to challenge their curiosity and extend their thinking processes. My children and grandchildren have been motivated to learn and explore together. They have challenged each other and promoted greater understanding by “looking through the magnifying glass” A pity the publisher didn't provide two of the lenses !! They particularly enjoyed making a “wondergraph”, the section on the wondrous sights of the isis and making their own sundial. As the eldest boy said, “That's much more fun than playing computer games. An absorbing resource to promote knowledge , understanding, stimulation and challenge.
  2. A delightful mouthwash for the mind, restoring clarity, confusion, puzzlement and joy - this little -˜cabinet' is a true pleasure to pick through. Like any good overstuffed cabinet, open it and miscellaneous things will start falling out in random formation, leaving you somewhat dazed by the sheer range of evocative ideas, facts and beautiful nonsenses surrounding you.A mixture of logic, art, science and the beauty of human strangeness lurks here, and as with any good cabinet, there is also the presence of bugs and decay - use the magnifying bookmark to follow the ants into the depths and discover that the first recorded response to an x-ray was -˜I have seen my own death!'.

    The simplicity, the complexity, the beauty, the ugliness, the oddness, rationality and ultimately the curiosity of it all will keep you guiltily delving in and out of this little marvel - possibly for the rest of time.
  3. Somewhere in the East Midlands is a school.

    And somewhere in that school is a room.

    We know about this particular room because we've read about it. It's full of wondrous things -” puzzles, unusual objects and artefacts gathered together with the sole aim of stimulating students.

    The man behind Nottingham University Samworth Academy's Wonder Room is Dr Matthew McFall, brought in by the then new head, Dave Harris, as an Agent of Wonder with the remit of inspiring students.

    Dr McFall is also the man behind A Cabinet of Curiosities - The Little Book of Awe and Wonder.

    As teachers, we like curiosity. It's the fuel that drives young minds to want to know more. The desire to want to get to the bottom of something, to understand it more deeply. And yet it's so easy to stand at the front asking questions trying to force some kind of half-baked curiosity in our students. Sadly, that stuff's not real. Real curiosity doesn't fit into neat 50 minute chunks and is satiated when the plenary comes along. Real curiosity nags and eats and provokes long after the bell at the end of a lesson.

    -˜A Cabinet of Curiosities' takes its theme from the old idea of the Wunderkammers (Wonder Rooms) of Rennaissance Europe. These rooms were not easily categorised and contained objects and artefacts from a wide range of disciplines -” animal skeletons sat side by side with portrait miniatures, religious items and mineral samples. These Wonder Rooms sometimes took on a bizarre feel, but their purpose was always the same -” to provoke an interest in the wonderful.

    -˜A Cabinet of Curiosities' is a treasure trove. From the tiny message on the front cover to the miniature coded answers throughout, it's full of little delights and comes with its own magnifying glass bookmark to spot them. The book is split into 6 sections -” Wonder Rooms, Wondrous Forms, Wonderful Life, Wondrous Sights, Mercurial Wonders and Wonderful Constructions. A quick flick through will whisk you from diagrams of the human stomach to instructions on how to make your own sun dial, from a riddle that killed Homer to a Malaysian tongue twister.

    What's best about -˜A Cabinet of Curiosities' is that there are no curriculum links or lesson ideas here. In the world of wonder, these are irrelevant distractions. In fact, although you get the sense that Matthew McFall has collated these “objects” with some care (see p.31 where he matches a doodle of Auntie Mary scrubbing the floor with a diagram of a water molecule), he doesn't pepper the book with many of his own ideas and words at all. The curiosities are there to look at and the questions must come from you. It's a clever idea and it works -” we're still not sure why there are there tiny ants marching across the first few pages!

    It wouldn't be right to suggest ways in which -˜A Cabinet of Curiosities' could be used in your teaching. It's not that sort of book and it's probably not what the author would want. But we're pretty sure he'd appreciate the following idea. Here's our recommendation for what to do with this little book of awe and wonder in your classroom-¦
    1) Find the darkest corner of your garage.2) Cover the book in dust and cobwebs.3) Take to school and hide in a place where a student will stumble across it.4) Put on your best “I know nothing” face when the book is found.5) Just leave them to it-¦ Curiosity will out.
    More than anything else, -˜A Cabinet of Curiosities' serves as a reminder that a natural curiosity about the world is to be nurtured. Be the Agent of Wonder in your school and make your classroom a little space of awe and wonder.

    PS. If you ever work out what those ants are doing, don't let us know - we quite like wondering.
  4. Since he was given his first conjuring set at the age of four, the author of this intriguing and captivating little tome has spent his life immersed in mystery and magic - most recently at the University of Nottingham, where he is researching for a second doctorate, focusing on how curiosity and wonder can be generated in classrooms and used as tools for learning. Don't expect a dry, academic thesis, though; McFall is far too busy discovering and delighting in the world about him to deliver a lecture. Instead, this is as close to a real Cabinet of Curiosities (every school should have one, he insists) in book form as could be imagined, with puzzles, amazing facts, tricks, riddles, and glimpses of twisting paths that are begging to be explored crammed into the pages to be dipped into as the fancy takes you. Don't just expect the unexpected; demand it, and encourage your students to do the same.
  5. I can't wait to share this with my child -” the conversations it will trigger!

    The Little Book of Awe and Wonder makes learning fun.
    Reading this makes me happy to be alive.
    The glimpses I have seen here -” I want to keep returning and learn more and more.
    The Little Book of Awe and Wonder is a testament to how intricate and fascinating our world is. 
    A book to encourage the creative mind -” so playful I want to doodle, learn, explore and make a cabinet of curiosities in my bedroom.
    A book to bring wonder to even the most jaded -” it brings out the excited child and allows your mind to wander, explore and find unexpected links.
    Amazing material for any enthusiast who wants to inspire others.
    Poetry, philosophy, language, history, art and science in one little book -” brought together so effortlessly. Your mind will be buzzing and wanting more!
    Dr Seuss has grown up and become even more inventive.
    This book captures Matthew's unique way of looking at the world -” absorb his passion and fascination for everything!
    Beautiful illustrations which bring out patterns, structures and unexpected links between all matter -” a must for scientists and artists alike.
    The Little Book of Awe and Wonder allows you to wonder and explore.
    A bible to anyone who might have forgotten for a bit just how exciting it is to be alive.
    Wow -” what a treat!
    A treasure trove -” a feast for your inner curiosity and enough to spark wonder in all.
    This would be my school of the future.
    Made me glad to be human.
    What an amazing, curious species we are!
    The most exciting and fresh book I've seen for years -” a real cabinet of curiosities to fit in your pocket.
    Life will never be dull again.
  6. Matthew McFall generously shares his love, enthusiasm and vast knowledge of all things wondrous in this lovely collection. Just dipping in one discovers joys and then, as is the nature of wonders, curiosity is rewarded by an uplifting feeling of astonishment.

    There are images that show us the world in greater detail than our usual experience allows and illusions showing us that the way we think we perceive the world is not always as we assume it to be. Puzzles, games and paradoxes delight and bemuse. All this leads us to a more mindful exploration and experience of the greatest wonder of all -” our own existence. Upliftingly awesome. Truly awe-full!
  7. Matthew McFall has compiled page after page of pictures, proverbs and puzzles to stimulate your imagination in new ways. When Sir John Templeton listed the character virtues that he intended his foundations to promote, he ended with curiosity, humility and awe. The Little Book of Awe and Wonder will pique your curiosity, encourage your humility and arouse your awe at the extraordinary collection of verbal and pictorial observations within its covers. This is an excellent book to keep by your bedside, and would make a marvellous birthday present for intellectually lively nephews and nieces.
  8. This truly is a wonderful little book full of images that inspire and inform my work as an artist. One of the delights for me is to see these familiar images alongside many that are new to me but equally awe inspiring. This book is a visual treat and can be revisited again and again. A great triumph.
  9. Matthew McFall weaves wonder into every page. Like a Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities, The Little Book of Awe and Wonder offers a stimulating mix of the puzzling, the bizarre and the thought-provoking. The reader is guided on a visual journey through wonder rooms, protean forms, crystalline shapes, visual illusions, labyrinths, riddles and codes, all carefully selected with an eye for the incongruity and beauty of life.
  10. Dr Matthew McFall is an accomplished illusionist and in this delightful book he takes us into a fascinating realm of illusions, puzzles, paradoxes and curiosities, both in words and pictures. Building upon the idea of the Renaissance -˜Cabinet of Curiosities', he progresses in six chapters through a diorama of optical, linguistic, medical and other wonders. But this is a book with a message: always be willing to see the unexpected in the ordinary and never be shy about enquiring that little bit further -” and around the next corner! As he tells us in the Prologue, -˜Curiosity did not kill the cat, but it did make her smarter.' A feast of learning, wit and lateral thinking.

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